Robert Newton

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Themes and Colors
Money, Class, and Community  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Grief  Theme Icon
Ambition Theme Icon
Crime Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Runner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Growing Up Theme Icon

Runner follows the adolescent Charlie as he is thrust into the role of “man of the house” after his father’s death. Charlie remarks in his narration that when the undertakers took his father’s body away, they took Charlie’s childhood with them. Charlie’s many responsibilities force him to grow up quickly, but although Charlie learns how to act like an adult, he is ultimately still a child in the process of maturing.

Charlie discusses his conflict between childhood and maturity early in the book. Though he might dress in knickerbockers like other boys his age, as soon as he leaves school, he must step into “the long pants of adulthood.” This notion of the schoolyard experience as a symbol for childhood continues as Charlie drops out of school to provide for his family, willfully leaving childhood behind to join his mother Mrs. Feehan as an adult responsible for their household. His work for Squizzy Taylor also forces him to grow up quickly, as it exposes him to liquor, gambling, and the dangerous criminal underbelly of Melbourne. Though Charlie quits his job with Squizzy, he does not return to school at the end of the story. He has grown used to the expectations of adulthood, and he is in the process of growing up to be comfortable with those expectations. That process isn’t a strictly linear one, though: when Charlie returns from the Ballarat Mile, he “fell into his mother’s arms,” which signifies that Charlie accepts he has not grown up too much to stop depending on his mother. His circumstances have demanded maturity, but when the pressure of supporting his family is lifted, Charlie is able to embrace aspects of childhood again, like his mother’s care, and resume maturing at his own pace. 

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Growing Up ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Growing Up appears in each chapter of Runner. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Growing Up Quotes in Runner

Below you will find the important quotes in Runner related to the theme of Growing Up.
Chapter 1 Quotes

True, it was the warmth I sought each night I headed out. It was the prickle of skin and the sweat on my brow. But soon there was something more. The sleazy streets seduced me, and, like a moth to the flame, I gladly surrendered.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2  Quotes

Normally I would have felt uneasy, limping through the city streets in the daylight hours. Without an adult escort, I was fair game to be collared by a truant officer. But today, I felt different. Today, although my victory had not been entirely aboveboard, I had joined the ranks of the gainfully employed. I was one of them.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

That night in my sleep, I dreamt of a house with pink walls […].All three of us were there, Ma, Jack, and me, sitting in front of a crackling fire. Beside the hearth, stacked neatly in rows, was a pile of wood stacked so high it reached the top of the mantelpiece. We sat smiling, faces aglow, dunking bits of bread into steaming soup […].

Next morning, it was the cold that woke me early. When I opened my eyes, the pink walls in my dream had turned a moldy gray and black.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Jack Feehan
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

It was quick, my father’s death […]. As soon as he took his last breath, Ma and I were forced to think of the future. Even in death, the poor were denied the luxury of grieving. There just wasn’t time […]. [W]hen the undertakes came to wheel my father’s lifeless body out to the hearse, it was as if they took my childhood with them.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Mr. Feehan, Jack Feehan
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

I was proud of my legs. Before the running, they’d been nothing more than two slender sticks […]. But now with the miles in them, they were steely and strong. They were runner’s legs––legs that would one day carry me out of the slums for good.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

I didn’t want what other people wanted. I didn’t want to be like Nostrils, sticking labels on tins of jam at Rosella’s, or like my father, who’d busted his gut down on the wharf for years. I wanted something more than that. I wanted a piece of the action. It didn’t have to be a huge helping, just a slice of it.

Enough to give Ma and Jack a better life.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Nostrils Heath, Squizzy Taylor , Mr. Feehan, Jack Feehan
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Reluctantly she swung my way, and it was then that I saw her battered face. I was shocked […]. I could not believe that the woman standing before me was the same one who’d brought me into this world––the one who’d cared for me all these years.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Squizzy Taylor , Mr. Peacock
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

True, I had been wearing my father’s boots for some months now. Wearing them was easy […]. Any mug who knew the art of tying laces could do that. But filling them, now that was a different story altogether.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Redmond, Mr. Feehan
Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

In a person’s life, there are some moments that define who you are––miniscule moments where you’re called upon to act, faster than a flip of a coin.

Heads or tails.

Yes or no.

Go or stay.

Perhaps my mind was already made up, but as I turned and saw them on top of him, Nostrils raised his head and screamed. “Run, Charlie! Run!”

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Nostrils Heath (speaker), Jimmy Barlow
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“Did ya ‘appen to know, Charlie,” [Ma] said, pouring the tea, “that me and Alice ‘ave somethin’ in common? […] It just so ‘appens that Alice loves to dance.”

Right then, the strangest thing happened. A vision of my father appeared in the living room as clear as Ma was sitting in the chair opposite […]. He raised his eyebrows, then smiled.

“Giddyup, Charlie.” He winked.

Then he was gone.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan (speaker), Alice Cornwall, Mr. Feehan, Kenneth Cornwall
Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 146-147
Explanation and Analysis:

Full of rage, I dropped by eyes to the ground and saw my shiny black boots. Right then, something clicked inside my head. Everything became clear. Silently I left the office and made my way to the laundry. After changing into my father’s old boots, I strode back down the hall. I […] placed the boots on the table, right under Squizzy’s nose.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Nostrils Heath, Squizzy Taylor , Jimmy Barlow, Mr. Feehan
Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

As I sat against the bed, the stash reminded me of the play money my father used to make me, and how I’d pile it into neat rows, always asking for more […]. But this was no longer a game, and I was no longer a boy.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor , Mr. Feehan
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

I went back to that first time I’d ventured out––that time I plotted a course of four main streets to rid myself of the cold, dull ache in my bones. Tomorrow, however, I’d be running for something more. I’d be running for my father, for Ma, for Jack, for Alice, for Nostrils, and for Mr. Redmond. Tomorrow I’d be running the race of my life, and the stakes were high.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Nostrils Heath, Cecil Redmond, Squizzy Taylor , Alice Cornwall, Mr. Feehan, Jack Feehan
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

As I turned the knob, Ma appeared behind me.

“Where are ya goin’, Charlie?” she asked.

“I’m goin’ runnin’, Ma.”

“Runnin’? Where to?”

I dropped my eyes to my father’s boots, then looked up and smiled.

“Who knows, Ma. Who knows.”

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan (speaker), Mr. Feehan
Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis: